Business students take learning from class to corporate world

Access to online platform gives students, professors and partner companies a way to work together on solving real-world marketing challenges.


With access to a new online platform, University of Alberta business students are getting a chance to work together with actual organizations to solve their marketing challenges. (Photo: Alberta School of Business; taken before COVID-19)

Consumer behaviour professor Noah Castelo regularly has his business students partake in an end-of-term group project analyzing a hypothetical marketing challenge using the various tools they’ve acquired over the semester.

That fairly routine practice jumped from class work to the corporate world this semester thanks to access to a new online platform that gives students a chance to collaborate with actual organizations to solve their challenges.

Some of the projects his class are working on include improving the marketing strategy of Ergonomyx, a Victoria-based manufacturer of standing desks and under-desk stationary bikes, and Queen City Hemp, a U.S. manufacturer of CBD-infused drinks; and increasing outreach and donations for HPV Global Action and Spouts Impact, a Uganda-based charity working to improve access to clean drinking water.

“In my mind, if you're in a business school, students need experience working with an actual business—that is far better than having just hypothetical work,” said Castelo.

The online work-integrated learning platform—Riipen—comes to the University of Alberta courtesy of a partnership with RBC Future Launch, which brought the program this fall to 16 Canadian institutions, the largest of which was the U of A.

Riipen is a technology platform that enables educators to easily connect assignments or project work to interested business partners and non-profits that have real-time projects to provide the environment for students to get new insights into business problems and solutions.

Michelle Height, a business communication instructor in the Alberta School of Business and career adviser in Business Career Services, is heading up Riipen’s rollout in the school. She said having learning anchored in real-world business scenarios translates to better learning outcomes and student engagement.

“One of the things we constantly hear from students is they want that practical experience that allows them to translate what they learn in the classroom to their career path,” she said. “The more of what a student learns that can be applied in a real-world scenario, the more that learning has transferable value.”

To that end, Riipen acts as a broker between the classroom and the boardrooms of hundreds of businesses, Height said, noting the program is even built to mirror a work setting. Complete with a project dashboard, the platform’s features include support for continuous communication and an ability to track progress along timelines and deadlines, as well as track feedback and verify students' skills and knowledge.

“What's really excellent about Riipen is it's not just a matter of saying, ‘Here's a company, here’s a project, go,’” she said. “It manages whatever deliverables are expected and provides the educator and the business partner with a clear idea of what is actually happening within their given project. More importantly, it gives the students concrete evidence of their potential and has greater impact when speaking about their experiences in an interview.”

That final piece—quantifying the lessons learned—is always the toughest piece for prospective employers to weigh, Height noted.

“When you’re applying for jobs, one of the hardest things to prove is your potential,” she said. “In the end, Riipen gives students something more tangible to put in a resumé or cover letter and to speak about in an interview.”

Eight business courses are now piloting the platform, with plans to expand it within the School of Business—and hopefully beyond—in the winter of 2021.

“The Alberta School of Business is the pilot faculty at the U of A, but based on the results so far, the potential for Riipen to expand to other disciplines and have a greater impact on the quality of student experiential learning is very exciting,” said Height.

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